Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Rome: Pathway to Power - Out of the Fire

Written by Reiko

Hector’s Journal #1: "Someone's going to want to know eventually how a simple slave managed to get so far. I am hardly a simple slave, at least now, but I'd like to think that I was never ordinary. Yet you could say that I just got lucky, at least at first. It all started on the worst and best day of my life up to that point. It was certainly the worst day of the lives of a lot of other people."

First, I'm probably going to want to complain about the controls a lot, so let's just get that out of the way first, and then we can concentrate on the plot. Hector wanders around, often even when I haven't told him where to go, and when I do, the pathfinding is very inconsistent. For a game with time limits, this is not helpful. One time I clicked on a square to have Hector walk in one direction along a wall, and instead he started going the other way, as if he was trying to go around the wall instead. The one mitigating factor is that the map is interactive: it's basically like a very zoomed-out version of the whole level, with the current locations of all the people (unlabeled, but you can see in general where people are) displayed in real time, and clicking zooms back in and starts Hector moving to the selected location. It's actually far easier to navigate using the map screen than the regular screen, just because the view is so narrow.

Also, I discovered that if I click on an NPC, Hector yells "Excuse me" or some such, and the person stops moving for a minute, which gives me a chance to do a "greet" or "inquire" action on them. Better than trying to talk to moving people when the people are so tiny. However, when there are multiple people in close proximity to each other, it's still difficult to click on a specific one.

Those little sprites are hardly distinguishable, so I hope this is the right guy.
I started at the beginning again after not making much progress in my introductory look at the game. This time I started talking to people right away and noticed that Hector kept asking about someone named Fellonius. One person directed me to the villa with two fountains in front. That was a pretty distinctive location on the map, so I pointed Hector in that direction (and waited at least a minute while he wandered over) and found the nobleman called Fellonius Moronicus. What a name. (Incidentally, Google tells me there is apparently a Swedish Minecraft Youtuber called Fellonius the Wizard.)

Just a comment here on Latin greetings. From what I can tell, it's a little odd to use "Vale" like this. The more common greeting would have been "Ave". "Vale" seems to be more like "goodbye" or "farewell".

Is this guy going to be important again later?

I also noticed that Hector has a message in his "use" list, which is basically inventory. Ah, maybe he's on a delivery mission. So I tried using the message on Fellonius. That was correct. Fellonius was grateful for the message, gave me three sesterces (what a convenient amount!), and asked me to keep this exchange secret. I don't know how I would tell anyone anyway, given that my dialog options seem to be limited to "greet" and "inquire." But okay then.

Hector's mother probably is either dead already (life expectancy
for new mothers was not very good in those times) or somewhere else.

On the way to the docks, I ran into a dagger merchant selling daggers for three sesterces. I decided trying to get a ride away from the city was far more worthwhile than a dagger. Later I came across another merchant selling "lucky dice" for only two sesterces. I didn't bother trying to buy those either, as I suspected any luck they may have had would not have been sufficient to deal with an erupting volcano.

Social inequality at its finest. But not unexpected, really.

Unfortunately, the boat owner wants nothing to do with Hector as a slave. He'll only take citizens. So Hector needs a class upgrade, stat. I wander around a little more and come across people heading to the baths. Everyone knows Romans went to the baths all the time. So, not having a better plan, I head up to the baths also. Now, the next part was somewhat accidental. When I started talking to people (who mostly had very little to say), I noticed I had two new "do" options: "pay" (since I now had some money on me), and "steal". Well, that last option was intermittent. I moved around a little and then saw that people would take off their clothing and just leave it by the pool when they went in.

Hmm, clothing...sure enough, I could do a "steal" action on someone's outfit. I exited the bath area right away, just in case someone was upset about this, but everyone seemed to be quite intent on their baths, and nothing happened. Then I "used" the clothing I picked up, and Hector changed into what appeared to be a citizen's white toga. Well, that's one way to get an upgrade, I guess. After all, it's a matter of life or death here.

At some point during this sequence, the storm arrived, and the volcano began its eruption. I hurried back down toward the docks to find the boat owner again. Along the way, I encountered a woman who thought she recognized me, but addressed me as a citizen. Clearly the new clothing is doing its job. By the time I get back to the docks, the eruption is well underway, and the townsfolk are panicking.

What’s next for our newest citizen?

This time when I talk to the boat owner, he's content to let me have a place on the boat...for a price. I "pay" him my three sesterces, and we quickly escape Herculaneum and head to a much more happening place: Rome.

Hector arrives in Rome a free man.

The second level begins with a little cut-scene of Hector disembarking in Rome, presumably with high hopes of being able to rise even higher in a city where nobody knows he was once a slave.

Map of the second level.

Fortunately, the map of Rome is actually labeled. Why couldn't they have put a few useful labels on the map of Herculaneum? Having "Baths", "Villa", "Temple", and "Docks" would have been much better than nothing, and consistent enough with the Rome labels. No, you have to wander around blindly until you figure out what things are.

Even so, things start happening almost right away, and just knowing what places are doesn't really help with figuring out what's important and what Hector should be doing. Almost immediately I get hints that Fellonius did indeed survive Vesuvius and is also here in Rome. In the Senate, I find Gaius Maneus, one of the two Consuls of Rome. According to his description, Fellonius is the other.

Announcement of a slave auction.

Soon I hear an announcement that a slave auction will begin shortly. I go to the Forum and watch various citizens compete to buy several slaves. Then, almost right away, another announcement comes, this time that there will be a contest. I go up to the Colosseum to watch this. The guards have a champion slave, and citizens are invited to have their slaves fight the champion to win a prize of at least 40 sesterces, 50 if the slave has already won a bout. Given that a good slave could cost at least 20, this may or may not be a good deal. Well, definitely not if the slave doesn't win against the champion, of course.

Hector wants to see the Emperor, desperately.

I go by the Palace, just to see what's there, and the answer is, nothing. Not for Hector, anyway. The Emperor is there, but the guards bounce Hector away if I get too close to the doorway. The guards say they can't let him in, unless...well, they don't say, but clearly there's a way in somehow. Possibly a bribe, but Hector would need money for that.

I don't really know why Hector seems intent on seeing the Emperor anyway. He wants to be the Emperor, but he's still a long way from that. I may be jumping ahead of the plot here, actually. I think somewhere in the blurbs I heard that the second level has something to do with protecting the Emperor from a plot, so it's likely that later we'll uncover something that makes it important to see the Emperor.

I also run into an assortment of colorful characters. There's "Kristophalus Gratuitus", an assassin (ooh, dangerous). "Iambicus Pentametrus", a poet (clearly the name is based on the poetic meter iambic pentameter). The slave trader's name was given as "Laborius Domesticus". And then there's a "wife" whose name is given only as "Erotica." Have fun with that one, guys. Nearly all the names are jokes of some kind rather than sensible Roman names.

Hector is very polite about asking for rooms.

Later I go by the Hostel and find a woman renting rooms for one sesterce a night. This seems reasonable, except that I still haven't found any way to earn money, aside from having a winning slave in the Colosseum, which requires buying the slave first.

As time passes, more announcements arrive. After the first slave auction and Colosseum contest, a little later there is a second round. I don't bother going to these, but wander around some more. At one point, I actually run into Fellonius at the Forum (where the slave auctions occur, but not during an auction). I try greeting him, but he rudely tells me to keep out of his way. Despite the citizen clothing, he's recognized me. Hmm, he's probably up to something.

Rather anachronistic.
Eventually I end up in the Senate again and stumble on a debate between Gaius the consul and someone else about various governmental issues, including sewers, road bypasses, and religion. It's all played for humor, such as using the Catacombs as an "underpass" instead of a bypass.

Evening is represented by Bacchus.

During this debate, time advances to evening, which changes the backdrop of the main screen from a bright woman with a harp (Minerva?) to Bacchus, with a handful of grapes. Later, when time advances to night-time, the backdrop changes to Diana, with a full moon.

After the debate is over, I catch up with the other man and find him to be a moneylender. He charges 100% interest, but maybe his cash could be invested in a slave or other venture to make some money. Hector can borrow 10, 20, or 30 sesterces. Somewhat ominously, he says he’ll find me when he needs to be repaid.

Does this mean anything interesting?

Shortly after that, another announcement declares that there will be a play presented by Plinius and Iambicus: "William Shakespeare" by Julius Caesar. Heh. Backwards, much? Anyway, when I get to the theatre, all the lines are in Latin anyway, so it's not really all that interesting. Night falls when the play is over, and Hector's first day in Rome is at an end.

Bonus: Death reel!

When Hector dies, the game automatically takes you back to the beginning of the current level. The game doesn't seem to support multiple saves: saving requires quitting, so I'm probably going to have to play each level multiple times. This would be less painful if moving around was a little easier. I did discover the Run button, which makes Hector move around more quickly (but not more accurately).

The townsfolk's deaths are presented comically.

Death #1: Dying in the lava of Vesuvius.

I restarted the first level three times before I was successful, but partly I wanted to see what would happen if you didn't escape the lava.

Death #2: Stabbed by the assassin.

Hector was just wandering around at night when he encountered the assassin I'd seen earlier. The assassin asked if Hector needed his services, and just for giggles I said yes. Then the assassin decided, "Nope, now you know who I am, so I'm going to have to kill you." Stab.

Next time, let's see what happens when Hector buys a slave and tries to bribe his way into the palace.

Session Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. Et quae ad vehicles, questus saeviret, interfectus in plateas et cetera, credo sumus ludens Amplitudo Furtum Toga.

    1. Yeah, you might be forgiven for thinking so.

      (Please don't everyone comment in Latin. It's tiresome to have to go Google Translate every time.)

    2. And, as it turns out, Latin is probably not evolved enough of a language to talk about computer games anyway... but I couldn't resist getting it in for the first comment. :)

    3. You can maybe use nullis plaustrum as a no horse cart

    4. I didn't even notice that I let the word vehicles get through. I'm ashamed. I would have changed it to "sinum currus" if I noticed.

  2. "Does this mean anything interesting?"

    It is a part of a poem of Catullus:

    "Ameana, the well-worn prostitute,
    demanded the whole 10,000 from me
    this girl with the ugly nose,
    friend of the indebted man of Formianus.
    Relatives, to whom the girl is of concern,
    call together doctors and friends:
    the girl is not sane, nor is she accustomed to ask
    for bronze reflective of her looks."

    Source: http://rudy.negenborn.net/catullus/text2/e41.htm

  3. Ah, stealing people's clothes at the baths. When I visited the ancient Roman baths in Bath, England, some of the artifacts they'd dug up were entreaties engraved on lead tablets, to the hot spring's healer goddess. In some, bathers were requesting verbose vengeance against whoever stole their fine clothes while they were enjoying a bath.